“I think the country needs a strong Republican Party going forward, but our party has to choose. We can either be loyal to Donald Trump or we can be loyal to the Constitution, but we cannot do both.”
—Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) on CBS “Face the Nation” on 2 January 2022
Welcome to 2022! Most of us are optimistic at the start of each new year that the coming year will be better than the year before. It is a time of hope, good will and enthusiasm. By nature, I am an optimistic person that believes when given a chance, the average person will do the right thing. Looking ahead to the coming year, I do not have that feeling.
We thought we had the pandemic under control in the summer and fall of 2021 and we didn’t. We now set new records daily thanks to the omicron variant. As we pass 825,000 dead Americans, we still have about 100 million of us that refuse to get vaccinated, swamping our hospitals with cases that squeeze out others with life-threatening illnesses or injuries. Indeed, many of those hospitalized with Covid-19 still refuse to believe that it is a thing. Republican politicians around the country encourage irresponsible actions in the name of “freedom,” even as they themselves are vaccinated. I did not imagine such abominable behavior when the true import of the pandemic first hit home. There are now new ethical decisions that none of us are prepared to address. Do we turn people away from the use of limited medical care after they chose to act irresponsibly in favor of those that have done everything right and still end up in the hospital? Do all of our insurance premiums go up to take care of those that deliberately choose to disregard all prudent actions? Tough questions that none of us thought much about before.
As serious a threat as the pandemic is to our well-being, a bigger threat looms ever closer to destroying our democracy. As we approach the first anniversary of the assault on the Constitution through the 6 January insurrection, we still have no one held accountable that was “in charge.” Roughly 750 insurgents that attacked the Capitol have been indicted or tried for the assault. The foot soldiers are being tracked down and punished, but the ersatz colonels and wanna-be generals that sent them to create havoc have not. We are now in another election year and the perpetrators of the studied attempt to overturn our democracy have not been held accountable. Indeed, those in and out of government, including the 147 members of the Republican Sedition Caucus are free to roam the country demanding faux audits (several are ongoing or about to begin in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere) over a year after all states certified the actual results. Countless court cases have been dismissed for a lack of evidence. Not one scintilla of evidence that anything harmful was done anywhere that would change the election results has been produced. And yet, it continues. I do not think that any of those perpetrating the Big Lie through court cases and audits truly believe that the election was stolen. Their goal is to continue to undermine election integrity and to create the conditions that if their preferred candidate does not win, then it is by definition a bogus election and must be overturned.
Thus, our great experiment in democracy comes to an end.
The safeguards that were in place in November 2020 will not be there this time around as extremist Republicans are systematically replacing bipartisan or nonpartisan election officials with their own hardcore believers at the county and state levels. Next time when a presidential candidate calls a state Secretary of State in charge of the election and says “So look. I just want to find 11,780 votes” he will get them. Numerous states passed new election laws that aim to suppress the vote. That arguably can be overcome with a concerted effort to get out the vote and by educating voters on how to cast a ballot in spite of those efforts. More troubling are the laws like that proposed in House Bill 2720 by the Arizona state legislature that allows the Republican controlled legislature to override the popular vote count and send their own chosen electors to the Electoral College — for any reason.
As I have written in this space before, there are Bills passed by the House and sent to the Senate that would standardize national elections across all fifty states. Currently, they are stalled in the Senate by the filibuster and the reluctance of numerous Senators to create a “cut-out” of the filibuster to allow for a simple majority to pass election laws — something, by the way, that since the mid 1960s used to enjoy a bipartisan consensus to protect the vote. No longer. Lost in the discussion is the practical logic that the numerous state voter suppression and cancellation laws passed in Republican legislatures pass on the basis of a simple majority. So by the Senate’s logic, states can restrict the vote at their discretion, even if it is by only one vote, but the mighty Senate of the United States cannot protect it with an elected simple majority. Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently announced that he will hold a vote no later than 17 January (Martin Luther King Day) to pass voting rights legislation — and will include a measure to override the filibuster if so needed. It is unclear if the votes are there. My feeling is that they are not. I hope that Leader Schumer forces the vote in order to put on the record those Senators that oppose voting rights.
Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump and his minions continue to bray about the “rigged” election that he lost fair and square — as attested to by many in his own administration including his personal attorney who also happened to be the Attorney General of the United States at the time. While they are making what is professionally called “a ton of money” pushing this scheme, it is also clear that they were serious in their intentions. The House Select Committee investigating the 6 January assault has unearthed a treasure trove of information about the days leading up to the insurrection. At that, they have only publicly talked about a fraction of the information that they have gained from interviewing 300 witnesses and collecting over 30,000 documents. They are putting together the case that most of us knew instinctively — Trump and his sedition bound cohorts had a plan to deny Joe Biden the White House to keep Trump in power. We now know that the wheels of that plan began to turn as early as the day after the election and was based on numerous simultaneous and complimentary efforts to throw out Electoral College votes from key swing states — or better yet, replace the certified votes with new ones picked by Trump’s cronies. Their ultimate goal was either a revised Electoral College count, or to throw it to the House of Representatives where under the terms of the Electoral Act of 1887 and the 12th Amendment to the Constitution Trump would win as each state has only one vote, regardless of the number of Representatives from that state. The purpose of the actions by Trump, the Sedition Caucus, pressure on Vice President Pence, his “War Room” in the Willard Hotel and other Trump efforts was to delay the certification of the Electoral College vote so that the rest of the plan could come to fruition.
The attack on the Capitol was the last effort to delay that vote. In my view, it was intended (and I mean intended — it was no spontaneous eruption) to further aid in delaying the certification of the election in order to buy more time to complete the plan. If members of Congress were killed, injured, or kidnapped, in the process, too bad, but so much the better as that would certainly slow things down. I further think that when all of the evidence is assembled, that a secondary element of the plan was the expectation that counter-protesters would attack the Trump supporters creating a general melee and chaos, allowing Trump to declare martial law and delay the certification proceedings for an indefinite period of time. The then Commander-in-Chief watched the assault on TV for 187 minutes before calling it off. What was he waiting for? Clearly, at worst he was hoping that they would succeed. At best, he was derelict in his duty as the Commander-in-Chief. Either way, he needs to be held accountable.
(A side note: I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist. I am not falling prey to that with my comments above. I think that the evidence will show that there were multiple avenues of obstruction to their plan and the belief that counter-protesters would attack is the reason that the National Guard was not quickly deployed. They were being held in reserve to “rescue” the Trump supporters.)
They had a plan. It had branches and sequels. It failed. They are now putting into place the mechanisms to succeed next time around. That scares me greatly.
As Representative Cheney said, it is time for Republicans to choose to follow their oath to the Constitution or to continue to actively undermine our country in the support of one man — as if in a cult — who clearly wants to be an autocrat for life. Just this week, he “endorsed” Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban for reelection. Mr. Orban is a hero of the American right-wing and held up as an example for our own leaders to emulate. To the rest of the world, Mr. Orban is an autocrat who eroded all of the rights of a former post-Soviet democracy, turning the country into a democracy in name only. As the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is said to have proclaimed, “I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how?”
There is one final consideration. Should we or should we not hold a former president criminally liable for his actions and take him to trial and possibly incarcerate him along with his accomplices? Following Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 over the Watergate scandal, President Gerald Ford chose to pardon him in order to relieve the nation of the ordeal of a possible trial and the chaos that may ensue. Further, in the United States we have no tradition of incoming administrations of another party prosecuting former political enemies. Indeed, we scoff at other nations that do so and label them “Banana Republics.” Impeachment by the House and conviction in the Senate is our preferred method of holding presidents accountable. To take one to trial would be unheard of and perhaps set a horrible precedent for the future. But…..
We have never had a president in our long history try to overthrow a duly elected successor in order to keep himself in power. Even after such a failed attempt, we have never had another ex-president continue to claim that he is the “true” president and to incite others to overthrow the government. Even a year later. Those actions are unprecedented and therefore the remedy needs to be unprecedented. I hope that the Department of Justice puts together a case against all of those that were involved, including the ex-president. Although I am out of the prediction business, my sense is that once again, Trump will walk away without consequences. Perhaps that may be best for our country in the long run, as a trial and conviction of the ex-president would, I fear, lead to widespread violence across our country. It may be a lose-lose proposition.
So, my optimism for 2022 is subdued, at best. We are in for some tough times as a country. Not the toughest — the Civil War comes to mind — but a dangerous time for certain.
Stay healthy and may good fortune find you this year.